One of the reasons that I go to the mountains is to disappear for a few hours. To find some solitude, to clear some headspace, and to contemplate my place in the universe. Being out on your own on a mountain top and soaking in the scenery is good for the soul and helps a lot of us with our mental well-being. It is not that I do not enjoy company on my walks.
If I had to pick my 10 best mountain days, then I think all but one of them have been spent with friends on windswept peaks in this country or on some sun kissed or snow-covered rocky outcrop further afield.
The Nantlle ridge in Snowdonia is a great place for finding some mountain solitude. Whilst all the crowds are piling up Snowdon, you will find only a smattering heading in the opposite direction to this neighbouring range.
On my most recent visit at the end of last summer there were so many people on Snowdon that it made the local news, whereas I only saw two different groups of people all day. And those Snowdon baggers are missing out.
The Nantlle ridge is a fabulous day out and ridge lovers will not be disappointed. It is an exhilarating walk on good ground that does not have some of the difficulties or exposure posed by more technical ridge walks.
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Nantlle Ridge logistics
The most difficult problem to solve when attempting the Nantlle ridge is the logistical one of dealing with a linear route. How do you get back to the start? The full ridge walk starts in Rhyd-Ddu and ends in Nebo (or vice-versa) and is a good 5 to 6 hours walk.
To reverse the full ridge in a single outing makes for a lengthy day which could move this walk from ‘enjoyable ridge walk’ and into the ‘arduous slog’ category, and those days are no fun for anybody.
If you have two cars, then leaving one at either end is the simplest way of dealing with this issue. There is a bus service in the area that can get you back to either end, or local taxi firm M&R taxis can also provide that service.
If you do decide to use either of these options, then it may be best to do that at the beginning of the walk so that you can just jump in the car at the end of your day.
However, a much simpler alternative is to do a there and back route to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd and this is the route that we have detailed below.
Rhyd-Ddu railway station
The route starts from the car park at Rhyd-Ddu railway station. The station is one of the stops on the Welsh Highland Railway, a steam train powered tourist route that takes you on a scenic route through Snowdonia between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, where it links up with the Ffestiniog Railway.
The station is also the starting point for one of the quieter routes up Snowdon, and as I set off on a sunny August morning everyone leaving the carpark was setting off in the direction of Snowdon. It is a bit disconcerting when you are the only person walking in a different direction, but I was reasonably sure that I was doing the right thing.
The signpost I was following pointed in the direction Beddgelert, the picturesque Snowdonian village which is famous for owning one the saddest legends; the story of the faithful dog Gelert that was slain by its owner who mistakenly believed it had attacked his baby.
On a brighter note, there is a fabulous ice cream parlour in the village to console yourself with. However, I would have to leave the dog-grief and artisan ice cream for another day as my immediate destination was fast approaching in the hulking form of Y Garn, the first peak on the ridge.
I took a slight diversion first though and walked along the wooden boarded path to Llyn y Gader. which gave me the first of several opportunities to look across to the Snowdon range. In this instance it was to enjoy the view of the peaks of Yr Aran and Craig Wen reflecting in the calm waters of the lake.
My early morning serenity was about to be shattered though, as the hike up to Y Garn would get the blood bumping and the heart racing. If I am honest, I quite like these sharp ascents.
They are like ripping a plaster off. A short sharp burst and then it is all over. Of course, you can travel at your own pace on the way up, but my preference is to get the difficult bit done more quickly so that I can linger longer on the good bits at the top.
Within 25 minutes or so Y Garn had been conquered. Confusingly this is one of three ‘Y Garns’ in Snowdonia, with the more famous one being part of the Glyderau.
There is nothing remarkable about the summit, there are a few cairns and a dishevelled wall to shelter behind if the weather is unfavourable, but its best function is for viewing the scene around you and getting your bearings.
The north face drops away sharply and across the valley is the standalone peak of Mynydd Mawr, while if it is clear you will be able to make out the coast and Anglesey beyond it.
The obvious peak of Snowdon lies immediately to the east, but of more interest is the view of the full ridge line to the south west. After the effort exerted in reaching the top of Y Garn, the prominent peak of Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd will look worryingly distant, but the good news is that most of the hard work is now behind you all the walking from here on in is pleasant ridge walk.
Ridge walks come in all shapes and sizes, and by their very nature ridges require the land either side of them to drop away to varying degrees of sharpness. This in turn produces spectacular walking or induces jelly-legged terror depending on your demeanour and the severity of the exposure. In the UK ridge walks such as Aonach Eagach in Glencoe, or Crib Goch on neighbouring Snowdon sit at the higher end of the knee-knocking ridge walk continuum.
However, the difficulty rating for the Nantlle ridge is relatively low, particularly in good and clear conditions and any technical or exposed sections can be easily avoided.
The one section where you can get your hands on some rock is by following the ridge line up Mynydd Drws-y-coed. You can by-pass this by keeping a little lower to the left-hand side if you want to avoid any difficulties.
I, however, do enjoy a bit of scrambling so took the opportunity to seek out the most ambitious route across the top without putting myself in peril by edging anywhere close to the sheer drops on the west face.
I had been walking for approaching an hour by then, when I came across the first person I had seen on the mountain that day; a fell runner skipping her way across the rocky terrain with the dexterity of an ibex. Over the winter I watched a brilliant Welsh mountain film called 47 Copa, which followed extreme athlete Hew Jack Brassington’s attempt to complete the Paddy Buckley round in treacherous conditions.
For the uninitiated, the Paddy Buckley is the circular route across Snowdonia that sets fell runners the challenge of completing its 47 summits and 100km in less than 24 hours.
I am not sure if these long distance fell runners are mountain heroes or extreme masochists, and maybe the truth is somewhere between the two. However, the view from this section of the ridge across Snowdonia gives you some perspective on the scale of that challenge. I am not in any rush to swap my boots for trail running shoes any time soon though.
Trum y Ddysgl
I dropped down from Mynydd Drws-y-coed and headed up the path to Trum y Ddysgl with only a hovering kestrel seeking out its prey for company. The top of Trum y Ddysgl is a large flattish space, probably big enough to squeeze a small football pitch onto although ball retrieval would be an obvious problem.
Whilst walking across this large flat section I started to get that feeling of isolation. The land drops away in all directions, the road where I had started out from had long since disappeared, and you had to work hard to find any sign of human life in the far distance.
There was no one else about and I had the whole ridge to myself. The only time I had enjoyed that luxury on Snowdon was one Boxing Day in weather so beastly that the pockets of my waterproof filled up with water at the expense of my phone. This was a warm and hazy August day and there was no one about. Bliss.
The path drops downwards to one of the most interesting sections of the ridge. The fine arête that links Trum y Ddysgl and Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd feels like a narrow footbridge. At its finest point, the ridge feels not much wider than you, but without feeling overly exposed, and there are great views down to the valleys either side of you.
The ridge is uneven, meaning that it is sheltered in parts, and as I walked around a rocky nodule, I came across a large buzzard sitting just a few metres from me, and was as surprised to see me, as I was to see it. It took flight before I had time to whip my camera out, but that it was so comfortable to perch in such a spot showed how quiet a route this can be.
What is obvious as you approach the peak of Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd is the huge obelisk that sits on top of it. The 18-metre obelisk was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 and looks temptingly climbable, although maybe not when you are on your own with 18 metres of gravity to deal with.
The peak is an obvious resting and refuelling spot given that it is more or less the half way point if doing the whole ridge. The footing of the obelisk provides a handy seating and dining area, which is sheltered by the wall that runs alongside it.
The views from here are stunning. The arête running back up to Trum y Ddysgl invites you to venture back over it, whilst Snowdon makes an effort to get its head in the photo in the distance. For those heading on to complete the full ridge then Craig Cwm Silyn, the highest point on the ridge is next up, and looms large to the south-west.
For me however, it was time pack up and follow my breadcrumbs back across that inviting ridge towards Trum y Ddysgl. There are a couple of options for mixing up the route back, with a detour into Beddgelert Forest being the obvious choice.
I however, headed back exactly the same way that I came. Just as I got to Y Garn I came across a group of walkers on their way up for a late afternoon adventure on the ridge, and these were the first people I had seen in three hours. If you want some peace and quiet and a glorious ridge walk, then head to the Nantlle ridge.
Time – 4.5 hours
Parking: Postcode LL54 6TN
Rhyd-Ddu railway station pay and display car park.